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Ministry backs church’s actions

A CHURCH-RUN rescue centre that has been accused of effectively kidnapping children acted within Cambodian law when restricting parental visitations, the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth has confirmed.

In July, the Citipointe Church, based in Brisbane, threatened to sue Australian filmmaker James Ricketson for defamation and slander due to his repeated accusations that its SHE Rescue Centre in Phnom Penh had illegally taken custody of an impoverished woman’s children.

Ricketson has said that the church illegally restricted the impoverished woman’s visitation to as little as two hours per fortnight against her will. He also rejects the church’s claim that it took custody of the children because they were are at risk of being trafficked.

“What legal authority did Citipointe have, in July 2008, to remove the two children in question from their mothers care?” he said in a recent email.

But in a letter to the Post dated Tuesday, Khuon Ranin, a Ministry of Social Affairs undersecretary of state, wrote that although the church had commenced operations years before signing an agreement with the ministry, a separate agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cleared Citipointe Church of any wrongdoing.

“For the SHE rescue project, bringing children under control and protection before signing an agreement is possible because the organisation has been registered at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, already,” the letter said.

The woman at the centre of the dispute has confirmed that the church had restricted her visitation rights since July 2008, when she voluntarily submitted two of her children into their care.

“Only after I rented a house could I see my children once every two weeks and sometimes only for 10 minutes,” she said earlier this year.

But Khuon Ranin said in the letter that the SHE Rescue Centre was well within its rights to restrict visitation rights to as little as two times per year.

“Practically, the ministry has prepared a grading policy which marks permission for two or more visits per year as a good grade,” the letter said.

It also stated that the SHE Rescue Centre could take custody of children on the grounds that they were at threat of being trafficked or because their parents were too poor to support them.

“After questioning [the SHE Rescue centre] the ministry believes [name excluded] must have been in any of the above targeted groups,” it said.

Citipointe were unavailable for comment yesterday, and Ricketson said by email yesterday that he did not have time to draft a response.

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